Gascogne

Gascogne is quite simply one of my favorite restaurants in New York. It’s on my must-go list whenever I’m in Manhattan, and between the international smattering of friends that always join me there, the exquisitely prepared French food, the impeccable choices of (affordable!) French wine the staff helps select and the lively yet intimate atmosphere, every visit is better than the last. In warmer weather they open the back garden patio for dining, adding to the “you’ve just stepped into a piece of Paris” feeling I always get when I walk through the overly-narrow cold-weather double-door, into the cramped bar and on to the restaurant jammed with traditionally European slightly too-small tables which encourage intimate conversations with old and new friends alike.

Pan-seared Foie Gras with Pear and Honey glaze

Tuesday night’s menu included pan-seared foie gras with a pear and honey glaze, confit de canard; my forbidden pleasure of a dish (how can you resist duck that’s been preserved in its own fat… I mean, seriously?!), and Crépes Suzette; crépes and orange zest flambeed in Grand Marnier. Two bottles of French Médoc, a complementary round of cognac from the ever-present Cyril at the bar, and five hours of laughter with friends stopping by the table all night long made for an exquisitely perfect evening.

Confit de Canard

Chateau La Gravette Lacombe Médoc 2003

Crépes Suzette on the menu

The flambee!

Crépes Suzette

 

Gascogne Restaurant
158 8th Ave (at 18th)
New York, NY 10011
(212) 675-6564
+1 212-675-6564

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rating: 5 feet
verdict: Amazing food, staff is helpful and knowledgeable, great wine at affordable prices, feels like Paris… what’s not to love?

 

 

A Bug Lunch


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For those that follow the twitter, you know I did something slightly… unusual yesterday. I ate a few things that you don't normally find on western menus. Things you don't normally consider eating. Things if seen in the wild, you'd probably run away screaming like a little girl.


I ate snake.



I ate centipede.




And the pièce de résistance… I ate scorpion.




Eating scorpion


But let me back up and take you on a tour of the great, famous, Donghuamen Market in Beijing (also seen written as the DongHuaMen Night Market, although it's open during the day).



Breaking tradition, I can't resist posting this movie on here. When we walked into the market, we immediately ran into a TV crew from Curaçao, traveling with Shawn Crawford, winner of the 200m Silver, who were trying to talk themselves into eating something bizarre. They finally settled on the snake (tame enough), but when I ordered a centipede, they couldn't resist getting in on the action. With cameras rolling, the host bit into his snake while I gnawed on the centipede. We traded sticks, and sampled each-others snacks. As you can see in this video, snake and centipede are not high on the yummy list in the islands!! You'll also see the devastation of one crispy scorpion. Delicious!









The video is also on my MobileMe gallery.


My dining experience even merited a comment on Vincent Laforet's Newsweek.com blog! LOL…


Day 14 - A Day of Firsts on newsweek.com


This is where to find the Donghaumen Market. On Google it's listed as Dong'anmen St., but I'll stick with the spelling on the sign I photographed there.


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This market is amazing, selling pretty much everything you would ever think not to eat. They sell starfish, centipede, grub, scorpion, snake, all kinds of internal organs, and — wait for it — sheep penis. No, I did not put that in my mouth.


Pictures speak louder than words. Check it out…


Centipede at the Donghuamen market


Centipede



Grubs at the Donghuamen market


Grubs


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Selection of scorpions (I ate the smaller ones, thank you!)



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Scorpion already fried and ready to be reheated



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Soft shelled crab



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Soft shelled crab cooking



Sheep penis


Yep… there it is. Sheep penis.


Of course the market doesn't just sell the bizarre. It also had a great selection of fruits, vegetables, noodles, and different meats. Not that I'd eat any of that crap.


Little boy eating corn


Little boy eating corn



Old woman eating noodles


Old woman eating noodles


What an experience. Even if you don't have the cojones to eat any of these delicacies yourself, no trip to Beijing would be complete without this bizarre experience. You gotta go!


In fact… I'm rating this "restaurant" with 5 feet… because damnit, it rocks!!


The Donghuamen market in Beijing


flat white


A short post for now. I'm in Paris, very tired after a dinner of lamb burger and absinthe, and will catch up on blogs tomorrow. However I'll post this one as I have the photos ready to go.


Back in London, a friend recommended a café called "flat white", which was quite close to my hotel. Claimed it had the best coffee in town. Boy, he wasn't kidding.


You can order the standard fare of cappuccino's, latte's and the like, but of course the top item on the menu is the flat white. There's a "definition" on the wall, which is followed by a lat/long reading (someone later told me that Flat White is also a place in New Zealand), and the definition on the wall reads an antipodean style coffee which is served as a strong shot of espresso served in a small cup with textured milk; a damn good strong coffee. Not quite sure what "textured" milk is, but the resulting drink is pure velvet. Absolutely delicious, sweet on the tongue and entirely too drinkable. It doesn't take much to put away a cup of flat white.



a flat white…


at flat white


flat white 17 Berwick Street Soho, London www.flat-white.co.uk +44 20-7734-0370





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rating: 5 feet

verdict: Perfect coffee. What else can you ask for?



Vasco & Piero's Pavilion Restaurant. Just change the name to "Incredible Italian" already!


It's not often you get to eat somewhere so good you wonder if you can get back for another meal before leaving the country. This is just one of those places.


Vasco & Piero's is a completely unassuming Italian eatery (specifically Umbrian, from central Italy) on Poland Street, just a few blocks from the shopping mayhem of Regent and Oxford Streets. We had a group dinner there, table for 10, and the menu is prix fix. Two or three courses, choose from a relatively small selection, and off you go.


My first course was a Beef Carpaccio, which is one of those dishes I truly adore and tend to judge Italian restaurants by. I believe I missed on the menu the detail that it was a roast beef carpaccio, which someone pointed out afterwards, so it was actually a bit thicker cut and basically rare beef, not raw beef, on the plate. But it was very tasty, served with fresh arugula and generous portion of parmigiano reggiano.



Roast Beef Carpaccio



When I joined the table, I was told immediately that "pasta was a must-have" at this restaurant. It's all homemade, fresh and apparently quite good. A quick scan of the menu revealed a few choice dishes, but one stood above the rest -- the Hand Made Wild Mushroom Tortelloni -- so I ordered that.



Ohhh, what a good choice. This may well have been some of the best I've ever had. The pasta was so delicate that it nearly melted in your mouth. It was firm under the fork but like warm butter on the tongue. The wild mushrooms inside were apparently very finely chopped, and once cooked was nearly a paste in the pasta that just contributed to the melted butter experience. I savored every last bite, and my only regret was that there wasn't more on the plate. I could have continued to eat until they rolled me out of there. It was truly that good.




Hand Made Wild Mushroom Tortelloni



Clearly you can't enjoy a dinner this good and not partake in desert. Pana Cotta with Strawberries jumped off the list, and I'm sure my friends who left the table early will see this and be kicking themselves for leaving. It was superb, and even the strawberries which were a bit on the pale side of red, were delicious.




Panna Cotta with Strawberries






Vasco & Piero's Pavilion Restaurant 15 Poland Street London W1F 8QE www.vascosfood.com +44 20-7437-8774





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rating: 5 feet




verdict: A superb meal, with some of the best pasta I've ever had. Definitely worth a reservation your next trip to London. And yes I upgraded this to 5 feet… after some pondering, everyone there enjoyed their meal as much as I did, and I think it's worth the rating.



Royal buildings, royal food


Cafe con leche. Zumo de naranja. Cereal.


I extracted the badly mangled, waterlogged, photocopied map from my back pocket and looked for something in the area to walk or metro to. The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) was not too far away, and seemed a good place to spend my morning. The metro was an exchange away, or I could walk to the another station La Latina for a direct line, which really was completely unnecessary as it was only one stop from there, but since I'd paid for the 5-day tourist metro pass, I felt I should give it a go at least once or twice!


The Opera station lets out in front of the Royal concert hall, which oddly enough completely obscures the palace. It isn't until you walk around the other side of this building that the magnificent structure emerges.



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As I wandered past the empty cafes facing the grand structure, I approached the fountain that sits front and center to the palace. At least three tourist groups surrounded it, but what caught my eye (or rather, ear) was the guitarist playing Spanish flamenco music sitting in the small courtyard surrounding the fountain. I found a shady spot, within ear of the guitarist, and sat to write.



Palacio Real de Madrid


Mmm, Roman soldier (?) for lunch!


Laying about for 250 years



Right, don't piss off Fernando 1!



Yep, me





Once the grumbles in my belly overpowered the strums of Spanish guitar, I made my way from the Palace to find something to eat. As I wandered away from this regal venue, playing Frogger with Spanish traffic, I spotted a little tapas bar with promise, called La Mi Venta. As I ducked my head in, my heart lept… this was finally the type of place I'd been looking for! Large drying legs of Jamón Ibérico hanging from the ceiling, a small asador in the corner, and a few grumpy old Spanish men running the place. Perfect!



Hanging Jamón Ibérico


Gorgeous food counters

The food here did not disappoint. The food counter illuminated a trip down memory lane, with tortilla, boquerones, caracoles, and even… yes there they were… pimientos de padrón! [link - because they are so good yet so few people outside of Spain know them]



Boquerones en vinagre


Jamón Ibérico





Pimientos de Padrón


This place was so good, I vowed to return.



La Mi Venta

Plaza de la Marina Española, 7

28013 Madrid

+34 91 559-50-91





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rating: 5 feet




verdict: superbly authentic and delicious. Maybe a little pricey, but what the hell… you're on vacation!



After this belly filling lunch, I wandered many of the smaller streets rising above the palace until I stumbled back into Puerta del Sol. The streets of Madrid are a veritable maze, but I was finding that I knew my way around quite quickly. Perhaps the Spanish street names were proving easier to remember as they tickled a part of my brain barely used for nearly 25 years, or maybe I was simply so enthralled with Madrid that committing it to memory was to be expected, but I found that I could very quickly find anywhere I'd been on the map, or find my way back to the hostel from any random street I found myself on. Simply put, the meanderings of the day always comfortably led me back to Calle de la Cabeza.

The Street Walker



Yesterday was essentially a perfect day. I spent time wandering the streets aimlessly, looking for cafés to stop at, people to watch, and street music to listen to.



Metro stop La Latina: oh so that's how I'm getting home!






The morning found me wandering the area around my Hostel, eventually stumbling into a Latin district, where I found somewhere to park it for a while. I spent most of the morning enjoying café con leche and torta de manzana in a cute, edgy-modern cafe, writing and sorting photos. From there, as I finally hungered for something a bit more substantial, I moved on and ended at Plaza Tirozo de Molina which was packed with the afternoon lunch crowd. After waiting endlessly for a table to free up, I asked a beautiful Spanish girl with a similarly shaved head if I could join her and her puppy Lúlu. To my pleasure she said yes, and while I waited for my food and she finished her drink, we chatted about where the best bars and cafés were in the area. It's funny, I think my Spanish is good enough where people think I'm from here, but just bad enough where they think I'm a bit dim. When we get to the part of the conversation where I tell them I'm from California, they are always surprised and I think a bit relieved… as if now they know they're not talking to someone who barely graduated the 4th grade. This lunch spot was typical Spanish, which was just what I'd been looking for. A three-course lunch had me slurping gazpacho for a starter (good), eating a roasted veal with rice and veggies for the main (mediocre), and taking a rocket ship back to my childhood for the cuajada desert (superb). It's a simple custard-like cream, almost like a plain yogurt I suppose, topped with honey. Fabulous. All washed down with a beer, and I was ready for a Spanish siesta! (Unfortunately I failed to note the name of this place, but it wasn't all that thrilling so you're not missing much… and this dessert can be found all over the place).






Gazpacho, and Cuajada






From there I made my way back to the hostel where I could get online and post yesterdays blog entries. I seriously contemplated taking a nap, but somehow the hours wore on and before I knew it it was time for another wander. Apparently my timing was just right, as I walked back outside to slippery streets, the smell of fresh rain and a clearing sky. I walked back up to the plaza and climbed aboard the Tirso Molina metro to go one stop to Sol.







Puerta del Sol






This is a major shopping area, sure to be full of people, and it did not disappoint. Dozens, if not hundreds of shops line the surrounding streets, and I walked up and down most of them window shopping and admiring the ebb and flow of beautiful Spanish women. I eventually stumbled upon Plaza Jacinto Benavente and a glorious Maestro Currero (Master churro maker), founded in 1902. Just what the doctor ordered (I have a kind and understanding doctor, you have to understand!). An order of churros and a cup of hot chocolate was placed before me, and if you've never enjoyed this little treat, you're truly missing one of the great culinary wonders of the world. The chocolate is less a cup of hot cocoa and more a cup of melted chocolate bar. It's so thick and so high-fat that by the time it reaches your table a thick skin has developed over the top. The first churro you dip breaks the skin, and as you twirl the crusty pastry, the skin wraps around it like a warm chocolate blanket, the heady scent of deep dark cocoa hits your nose, and you realize, right then, that heaven awaits. One can only eat a couple of these before a mind-numbing satiation sets in, your eyes glaze over, and you start to wonder if you ask nicely, if someone will just carry you home.



Churros and Chocolate… love at first bite






Once I found the courage to stand again, I kept making my way back to the hostel to prepare for the next adventure of the day. I dropped back into the hostel's lounge and picked up a book for a while, chatting occasionally with other travelers as they passed through. Finally sensing a growing rumble in the belly, I decided to make my way back out for dinner.



Maestro Churrero Plaza Jacinto Benavente, 2 28012 Madrid +34 91 369-24-06 http://www.maestrochurrero.com

View Larger Map rating: 5 feet verdict: bring a stretcher

Casa di David



Ah, Casa di David – Italian food. One of my favorite restaurants in Amsterdam. Always stellar quality, creative and fresh ingredients and always, always a pleasure. I've never had a bad meal here. A couple of highlights…







This pasta dish (above) had a black pasta that was to-die-for. We thought perhaps made withs squid ink, but the waiter said seaweed. Whatever it was, it was amazing. I'm sure it helped tremendously that it was cooked perfectly, and everyone was stealing bites from the plate. Simply divine.







Grilled lamb chops, delicious. Cooked nice and rare, as I like them. Naturally I had to pick them up with my fingers and gnaw on the bones… not very European, but whatever. Too good not to. (apologies for the crap photos… I forgot my camera and these are low-light iPhone shots)



Casa di David

Singel 426 1017 AV

Amsterdam

+31 20-624-5093

www.casadidavid.com

View Larger Map rating: 5 feet verdict: make a reservation and go!

Feduzzi, Mercato Italiano



This little Italian deli is one of my favorite treasures in Amsterdam. The quality is phenomenal, the deli counter gorgeous to look at, and the prices are more than fair.







Just a few Euro for a panini that will melt your mind. Lovely, lovely food. Their mozzarella waltzes across your tongue in bedroom slippers, the picante salami tango's in stiletto heels.







Feduzi, Mercato Italiano

Scheldestraat 63

1078 GH Amsterdam

+31 20-664-6365

www.feduzzi.nl




View Larger Map rating: 5 feet verdict: sell your children to get there if you have to